15 year-old Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) is slumming it through yet another boring summer in unassuming Ipswitch, Oregon. When not delivering papers or playing “manhunt” with the other neighbourhood kids, he delves deep into conspiracy theories served up to him by the National Enquirer, much to the exasperation of his close friends Woody (Caleb Emery), Farraday (Cory Grunter-Andrew) and “Eats” (Judah Lewis of The Babysitter fame). One of these tabloid stories hits a little too close to home when a slew of disappearances reveals that a serial killer with a preference for young teenage boys is loose in the county.
Nearly every decade has it’s renaissance. The 1980s in particular seem more popular these days than when the decade itself was actually occurring. From Stranger Things and Kung Fury to throwback singles from Bruno Mars and Walk the Moon, those who grew up in that pre-digital age are now plastering their nostalgia over as much pop culture as we can consume. On the Canadian side of this trend resides the Quebec-based team of Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell, known collectively as RKSS (aka “Roadkill Superstar). The trio dazzled audiences in 2015 with Turbo Kid, an inspired riff on the Mad Max franchise and are now back on the map with their latest effort, Summer of ’84.
Almost immediately, Davey begins to suspect his next door neighbour Mr. Mackey (Rich Sommer), a 40-something bachelor who seems just a little too friendly, plus was seen by Davey with one of the missing boys. His friends, including former babysitter-turned-crush Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) don’t buy it at first, but Davey is utterly convinced that his neighbour is hiding something.
Since Mackey is in fact a cop, the gang will have investigate him themselves and dig up some proof (in some cases literally) before they can go to their parents and the police. But as the disappearances continue and reliable evidence fails to materialize, even Davey begins to wonder if they’re barking up the wrong tree. The gang ultimately concocts a daring operation to break into Mackey’s house in one last gambit to solve the mystery once and for all.
Summer of ’84 is the type of film thats never quite sure if it’s satirizing a genre, or merely conforming to it. The main cast ticks all the boxes found in 80s classics such as The Gooniesand Monster Squad. Theres the adventurous lead, the troublemaking cool kid, the glasses-wearing brain, the insecure fat kid and at least one sweet piece of female eye candy. The elements are all there but the film doesn’t seem keen to have much fun with them. Aside from some killer one-liners from Eats (usually at the expense of Woody’s mom), the proceedings are unusually dull for a nostalgic genre piece like this.
The effort is also marred by a curiously monotonous synth score from Jean-Phillippe Bernier, Jean-Nicolas Leupi and Le Matos (the crew list boasts quite a few trios). While decent enough for setting the tone, the constant synthesized notes quickly wear out their welcome. Perhaps a few more needle drops like Bananarama’s Cruel Summer were called for.
Surprisingly, the film manages a spectacular rally in it’s final act and delivers a shocking conclusion that will leave more than a few jaws on the floor. This alone is enough to score the movie extra points as it’s impressive feat, even with the lowered expectations. One only wishes that the preceding runtime had been given as much polish.
I should also give the filmmakers some credit for their masterful building and releasing of tension in the films latter half. There’s only a few jump scares, but plenty of edge-of-your-seat moments taking their place. I could feel the audience holding their breath at times.
If I’m being hard on Summer of ’84, it’s mostly due to it being a significant step down for RKSS after such an impressive debut with Turbo Kid. The same sense of fun and gusto brought to that effort just doesn’t register onscreen here. After all this type of nostalgic filmgoing isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. That being said, a few inspired moments and a strong ending to make this enough of a worthwhile diversion until the next season of Stranger Things drops.
Summer of ’84 screens the Rio Theatre in Vancouver on Thursday August 30 @ 9pm